Supermarket Strategy ; Fill Your Grocery Cart with Foods That May Help Keep You Young
Can you find a fountain of youth at the supermarket? Are the secrets to a long life hidden there among the toaster pastries and potato chips?
Not exactly, but supermarket shelves do contain numerous foods associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease and other afflictions of aging. You just have to know where to look.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are best, but canned goods offer convenience and good nutritional value.
The processing of tomatoes actually increases the bioavailability of lycopene, an antioxidant that helps neutralize highly reactive and damaging free radicals in the body. Lycopene in tomato paste is four times more available than it is in fresh tomatoes.
Canned beans are a useful alternative for those who don't have the time or inclination to soak raw beans. The soluble fiber found in beans makes you feel full for longer and may help lower levels of low-density lipoprotein, or "bad" cholesterol. Black beans, kidney beans and lima beans are good choices.
"You should drain and rinse them to get rid of the extra sodium," says Shelley Rael, a registered dietitian with the University of New Mexico Employee Health Promotion program.
The canned goods aisle is a good place to get a head start on meeting the American Heart Association's recommendation of two servings per week of fish. Canned varieties like tuna, sardines, salmon and mackerel are among the best sources of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce risk factors associated with cancer and heart disease and are important for brain health.
"Buy the fish packed in water, not oil," advises Rael. "The fish oil is in the fish, not the stuff it's packed in."
The insoluble fiber in whole grain bread is important for colon health and helps to regulate blood sugar levels, which is important in avoiding diabetes.
Whole grains also have antioxidants. Beware of deceptive labeling that promises "whole wheat flour" or "made with whole grains."
"Make sure 'whole grain' is listed as the first ingredient," says Rael.
The active bacterial cultures in yogurt are thought to improve the balance of microorganisms in the intestinal tract and enhance the immune system. In addition, yogurt offers a good source of calcium to help ward off osteoporosis.
Besides providing the most complete source of protein, eggs contain choline, which may help protect against age-related memory loss.
Eggs also are great sources of the carotenoids a class of plant pigments with antioxidant properties. A 2007 National Eye Institute study found that two carotenoids in eggs -- lutein and zeaxanthin -- protect against macular degeneration, a condition that leads to blindness.
Eggs from chicken that have been fed flax seeds contain essential omega-3 fatty acids.
and cooking oils
Bypass the salad dressings high in saturated fat and make your own with olive oil and cider vinegar.
Olive oil, the prime component of the Mediterranean diet, is a good source of monounsaturated fat and antioxidants. The extra virgin variety has higher levels of antioxidants.
Cider vinegar has been used since ancient times for a variety of ailments, and recent research suggests it could help lower blood glucose levels and cholesterol.
Once reserved for health food stores, bulk items are increasingly common in supermarket chains and a good place to get raw nuts and legumes.
Raw nuts are high in monounsaturated fats, the healthy fats associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Walnuts have omega-3 fatty acids and almonds are a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E.
Peanuts, which are actually legumes, provide a good source of monounsaturated fat and resveratrol, the much-touted antioxidant thought to protect against atherosclerosis. One ounce of peanuts contains as much resveratrol as six cups of red grapes.
The frozen food section is where many well-planned diets hit the rocks. But near the ice cream, pies and cakes, you'll find an abundance of frozen fruits, including blueberries, an antioxidant powerhouse.
Dark chocolate, or chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cocoa, is a good antioxidant that has been shown to lower blood pressure and trigger the release of dopamine, a mood booster. Watch the portion size, as dark chocolate is high in calories and saturated fat.
Milk chocolate and chocolate syrup don't offer the same benefits, as the manufacturing process removes most of the flavonoids.
Dried fruit offers the health benefits of fruit in convenient, snack-sized packages. Try dried cranberries, a relatively recent arrival to supermarket shelves that has loads of antioxidants.
Stay away from cereal with cartoon characters on the boxes and consider oatmeal instead.
Research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that eating a diet rich in oats significantly lowers both blood pressure and cholesterol.
While it's hard to go wrong with vegetables, some pack more nutritional power than others.
"Generally, the more color the vegetable has, the more nutrients it has," says Rael.
With lutein and other nutrients, spinach makes a more nutritious salad base than iceberg lettuce.
Cabbage is another good choice for salads. A study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that men who consumed three or more servings of cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli per week had a 44 percent lower prostate cancer risk.
Aromatic veggies like garlic and onions are rich in sulfurcontaining compounds that may help lower blood pressure, protect against cancer and prevent atherosclerosis.
Sweet potatoes and carrots are excellent sources of beta carotene, the antioxidant and vitamin A precursor.
Fruits offer a variety of nutrients, from the fiber of apples to the potassium of bananas.
Avocados have the highest omega-3 content of all fruits.
Kiwis, grapefruits, watermelons and apricots are great sources of vitamins and antioxidants.
Coffee beans contain antioxidants and caffeine, which has been linked to a lower risk of colon cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.
Green and black tea contain about 25 percent flavonoids, another class of plant pigments with antioxidant properties.
Though more research is needed, green tea has shown promise at helping to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, while black tea has shown potential for reducing the risk of stroke.
Just remember that the caffeine in coffee and many teas has negative health effects, including anxiety, upset stomach and irregular heartbeat.
Have a plan
Eating healthfully not only means stocking up on healthful foods, but also keeping the junk food out of the shopping cart.
Rael, who teaches classes in grocery shopping and meal planning, says shoppers can accomplish this by devising a plan of attack before they set foot in the supermarket.
"You should make a list and stick to it, whether you have a meal plan for a week or a few days," she recommends. "Familiarize yourself with the layout of your local store, and only go down the aisles you need to go down."
And one more thing: Don't go to the supermarket when you're hungry.
"Have a snack before you go food shopping," urges Rael. "If you go to the store hungry, everything looks good, from the Fruit Loops to the ice cream."
For information about Rael's classes, call her at 272-3989.